Theme cruises have become so popular they now span a wide spectrum of interests and topics. These special sailings can be the perfect incentive to cruise newbies, as well as die-hards who fancy getting insight into their favourite pastime. Where better to immerse yourself in your cherished hobby, recreation or entertainment with like-minded people than on a leisurely cruise? Whether a jazz buff or enthusiastic gourmand, an avid golfer or hooked on soaps, a yoga devotee or dedicated dancer, chances are there's a theme cruise for you.
While the possibilities are diverse, this comprehensive guide to theme cruises gives details of scheduled sailings with enhanced or specialised programming onboard. These specific voyages have the added benefit of seminars and interactive sessions, hands-on learning and even exclusive events ashore. Some theme cruises even offer the chance to hobnob with famous musicians, renowned chefs or television celebrities in intimate settings.
This year's offerings are more dynamic than ever, though it's the TV tie-ins that are really taking off. Princess Cruises are recreating the hugely-popular BBC programme "The Voice", while Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines are bringing "The Great British Bake Off" to the high seas, and "Strictly Come Dancing" cruises are now a regular fixture aboard P&O Cruises.
Below we list what's on offer for 2016.
Theme: P&O Cruises "Food Heroes"
Date: 17 September 2016
Details: P&O Cruises is offering a wide variety of "Food Heroes" sailings this year. On an eight-night cruise on Britannia setting sail from Southampton on 17 September, passengers will have the chance to see popular TV chef James Martin, plus "Cake Boy" Eric Lanlard, and cheese specialist, Charlie Turnbull during this cruise to La Rochelle, Lisbon, Vigo and Guernsey. Martin will also be onboard Britannia on 16 May, 5 June, 3 September and 27 September. Charlie Turnbull will sail on Britannia again on 27 June and 17 September. Eric Lanlard will also be onboard Britannia on 2 May, 20 August, and 9 October. Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar will be the "Food Hero" aboard Azura on 8 April, and again on 21 October; he will also be sailing aboard Ventura on 30 October. Marco Pierre White will sail on Britannia on 30 July, aboard Azura on 29 August as well as on Ventura on 16 October. Wine expert Olly Smith will also sail on Britannia on 5 June, and onboard Azura on 19 June and Ventura on 30 September. "Food Heroes" cruises include cooking demonstrations, masterclasses, hosted dinners, book signings, Q&A sessions and hosted food-or-wine-related shore excursions in specific ports of call.
Theme: Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines "Great British Bake Off"
Date: 8 August 2016
Details: Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines is hosting Nancy Birtwhistle, the 2014 "The Great British Bake Off" champion, onboard part of Braemar's 11-night "The Great British Cruise", which departs from Southampton. During her cruise from Cardiff to Rosyth, Nancy will be taking part in a Q&A session, where the Cruise Director and audience will be able to ask her questions about her time on GBBO. She will also share baking tips and host a live baking demo.
Theme: Crystal Cruises "Wine and Food Festival"
Date: 17 July 2016
Details: Crystal Cruises are renowned for their themed "Experiences of Discovery" voyages and gourmands wanting to discover Alaska in style can join this 10-night "Food and Wine Festival" cruise aboard Crystal Serenity from Vancouver to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Glacier Bay, the Inside Passage, Victoria, and Prince Rupert in July. On this voyage acclaimed chef Nobu Matsuhisa will mingle with guests and host multi-course omakase (chef's choice) dinners in Silk Road, as well as other feasts and special menus. On this cruise there are also several opportunities to taste local food, including a crab feast in Ketchikan and a salmon bake in Juneau.
There's also a 12-night "Food and Wine Festival" Mediterranean voyage aboard Crystal Symphony in May. Michelin-starred chef Alexis Gauthier of London's Gauthier Soho leads guests through demonstrations of his most famous dishes, as well as hands-on instruction to small groups of participants in the ship's galley. Passengers will enjoy a specially-created menu by chef Gauthier in the Crystal Dining Room. Meanwhile, back on shore there are exclusive cooking lessons at the Feggera Restaurant in Santorini and at a private villa near Sorrento, as well as at a working farm just outside Rome.
Theme: SeaDream Yacht Club "Wine Voyages"
Date: 17 September 2016
Details: SeaDream Yacht Club's new "Wine Voyages" this summer feature eight itineraries that have been designed by the line's new wine director, Ida Donheim, a seasoned chef and sommelier who has worked at Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck. Every voyage is personally escorted by Ida and the specialist winemaker who is featured during the cruise to local wineries along the route. At the final night's "Winemaker Dinner" expertly-prepared local dishes are paired with wines from visited ports. The 17 September sailing from Nice to Nice aboard SeaDream II includes wine tastings in the very heart of Chablis, Domaine Laroche, a former monastery where monks made wine as early as the ninth century; as well as magnificent views over the Bandol region in the charming village of Castellet, overlooking the beautiful countryside and famous vineyards. There is also a wine appreciation and tasting with Nicholas Laffitte, in addition to two tastings onboard and the "Winemaker Dinner" featuring wines from Domaine Laroche & Ogier. Other "Wine Voyages" are from Cannes to Rome on 4 June; Rome to Athens on 11 June; Rome to Nice on 10 September; Rome to Cannes on 1 October; and Cannes to Malaga on 29 October.
Wine and Wildlife Cruises
Theme: Seabourn Cruise Line "Food & Wildlife"
Date: 11 September 2016
Details: This 10-night "Canada's Maritimes & New England" cruise on Seabourn Quest departs Montreal on 11 September. Each destination has a burgeoning food scene centred on the abundant seafood (primarily lobster). In Quebec there's the chance to learn about maple syrup and visit an authentic sugar shack. The adventurous can also take a helicopter trip to Montmorency Falls before landing on the island of Orleans for lunch at a restored 14th-century inn. The Saquenay National Park is one of the best places in the world to spot Beluga whales and those looking for a challenge can kayak along Cape Trinity taking in sheer cliffs and sandy beaches. Prince Edward Island is famous for its beef tartare and albacore tuna. In the capital, Charlottetown, seafood lovers can sign up for a "Culinary Boot Camp" at the Culinary Institute which includes a lesson on how to harvest oysters, before a lobster ceilidh -- a special lobster eating ritual specific to the area - completes the experience.
Theme: Cunard Line "Blue Note Jazz at Sea"
Date: 1 August 2016
Details: On this eight-night transatlantic crossing aboard Queen Mary 2, departing from Southampton on 1 August, passengers will be able to enjoy a special performance from Herbie Hancock joined by fellow "Blue Note" musicians: Vinnie Colaiuta (Drums), James Genus (Bass) and Lionel Loueke (Guitar). Herbie Hancock's illustrious career spans five decades during which time he's picked up 14 Grammys. Another "Blue Note Jazz at Sea" crossing aboard Queen Mary 2 departs New York on 25 October. This features jazz, soul and gospel singer, songwriter and actor Gregory Porter who will be joined by fellow "Blue Note musicians" Chip Crawford (Piano), Emanuel Harrold (Drums), Jahmal Nichols (Bass), Yohsuke Satoh (Sax). On the same voyage will be three-time Grammy-winner Dee Dee Bridgewater who won the 2011 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
Theme: Holland America Line "B.B. King's Blues Club"
Dates: Year-round, debuting in April, 2016
Details: Holland America Line's new Koningsdam has been designed with music in mind. One of the world's best hospitality designers, Adam Tihany, has created an interior for this new ship that is inspired by music and musical instruments. The "B.B. King's Blues Club" recreates the Memphis music experience of Beale Street. The B.B. King All-Star Band - an eight-piece group featuring two vocalists backed by rhythm and horn sections - brings the best of the city's music to sea. From funky and fast to soulful and smooth, the band will perform six nights a week in the Queen's Lounge. Koningsdam features a variety of high calibre musical options including the new live music venue "Billboard Onboard" - a live interactive music experience that's part of the "music walk complex" which showcases live musicians. There's also the "Lincoln Centre Stage", a new live music venue created to showcase a chamber ensemble performing evening recitals and in the afternoon on sea days.
Theme: Princess Cruises "The Voice of the Ocean"
Details: Princess Cruises brings the excitement and spectacle of BBC TV's singing competition "The Voice" to the high seas. The "Voice of the Ocean" show begins with karaoke try-out sessions for vocalists 16 years or older, plus two opportunities to audition during open karaoke in one of the ship's lounges or showrooms. Fellow guests and cruise staff then decide who progresses to the competition stages. Selected singers are assigned a professional mentor to rehearse with the Princess Band and back-up singers. The live show, hosted by the Cruise Director on the last night of the cruise, will feature up to nine contestants performing in the Princess Theatre. The audience will include three team coaches that may feature a guest entertainer, the Hotel General Manager or even the Captain. Once teams are chosen, each coach picks one finalist. The audience then votes for the winner who will be awarded a trophy and the title "The Voice of the Ocean".
Theme: Hebridean Island Cruises "Hebridean Symphony"
Dates: 5 July 2016
Details: This seven-night "Hebridean Symphony" cruise departs Oban on 5 July. The 50-passenger floating Scottish country lodge that is Hebridean Princess visits the pretty fishing village of Tayvallich before venturing to the Isle of Jura. The neighbouring island of Islay is famous for its peaty single malt whisky and there is the opportunity to visit Laphroaig, followed by an onboard concert from musicians of the Cantilena Festival. After exploring Colonsay House Gardens and the Benedictine abbey on the holy isle of Iona, guests land on the island of Staffa to see the magical Fingal's Cave (which inspired Mendelssohn). Over the next three days there's a classical music lecture from Richard Jeffcoat from the "Mendelssohn on Mull Festival" at Tobermory, as well as two concerts by the talented musicians of the "Mendelssohn on Mull Festival".
Theme: Celestyal Cruises "Stories of Greek Summer Festival"
Date: June to August 2016
Details: The summer festival as we know it was invented by the ancient Greeks, and this summer Celestyal Cruises are honouring the storied summer festivals of ancient Greece during cruises from the port of Piraeus near Athens. During the three- and four-night "Idyllic Aegean" cruises as well as the three-, four- and seven-night "Iconic Aegean" cruises, there will be a non-stop array of traditional and contemporary Greek entertainment. Passengers can enjoy theatrical performances, concerts by traditional and Greek pop singers, Greek films, and parties with Greek DJs.
Theme: P&O Cruises "Strictly Come Dancing"
Dates: April to July 2016
Details: Glitz and glam will hit the ocean waves again this year as the television phenomenon that is "Strictly Come Dancing" returns on four sailings with P&O Cruises. This year's professional dancers waltzing onto the decks include Giovanni Pernice, Joanne Clifton, Karen and Kevin Clifton, Janette Manrara and Aljaz Skorjanec. Each cruise will host four of Strictly's professional dancers, captivating guests with incredible, show-stopping routines. Also joining three cruises is judge and king of legendary put downs, Craig Revel Horwood. The Strictly stars will offer up-close interviews onboard, meet and greet opportunities, and spectacular "Strictly Come Dancing" showcases. Cruises include: a 14-night Canary Islands sailing on Ventura departing Southampton on 22 April with "Strictly" stars: Joanne Clifton, Giovanni Pernice, Karen and Kevin Clifton as well as "Strictly" judge Craig Revel Horwood. There's also a 13-night Canary Island cruise on Britannia from Southampton on 16 May with : Janette Manrara, Aljaz Skorjanec, Karen and Kevin Clifton and Craig Revel Horwood. The same line-up features on the 5 June Canary Islands sailing. A 14-night Mediterranean cruise departing Southampton on 22 July has: Ian Waite, Natalie Lowe, Pasha Kovalev and Anya Garnis. Stepping in as judge is Anton Du Beke.
Fitness and Well-Being Cruises
Theme: Silversea Expeditions "Wellness Expedition Voyages"
Dates: 18 October 2016
Details: Silversea Cruises has launched a collection of wellness-themed expedition cruises designed for travellers looking to recharge mind and body by combining exploration with a holistic approach to rejuvenation. This "Wellness Expedition Voyage" on Silver Discoverer from Balikpapan to Singapore is designed to provide passengers with the opportunity to improve their well-being while exploring remote Indonesian islands. Silversea has partnered with Technogym, a leading company in the field of wellness and fitness, to create a complimentary programme that includes: stretching, yoga, and Pilates classes held onboard and ashore (depending on location) as well as fitness classes conducted in the ship's onboard swimming pool. In addition to one free spa massage treatment there are fitness regimes, daily lectures and cooking demonstrations on the benefits of healthy and balanced nutrition
Theme: Star Clippers "Yoga Sailings"
Date: 30 July 2016
Details: Over the last couple of years, Star Clippers has offered guests daily yoga and meditation on selected "yoga-themed sailings". With spectacular settings as a background, yoga classes take place in the open air on the teak decks under thousands of square feet of billowing sails. Qualified yoga teachers hold daily sessions of Astanga yoga -- also known as power yoga -- on deck in the cool morning air, with a second session just before sunset which includes meditation. There are also lectures on the philosophy of yoga and advice for practice at home. On the 30 July sailing aboard Royal Clipper from Rome to Venice the yoga instructor is Liliana Skinner. There is another yoga-themed cruise on Royal Clipper in the Western Mediterranean departing Rome on 20 August. Star Clipper has yoga-themed sailings from May to August in the Mediterranean and aboard Star Flyer in the Greek Islands and Mediterranean in July and August.
Theme: MSC Cruises "Wellness Experience"
Dates: Year-round from April 2017
Details: MSC Cruises is meeting the growing demand for wellness travel by introducing an exclusive "Wellness Experience", developed in partnership with Technogym. Once onboard, guests will receive a one-to-one appointment with the Master Trainer who conducts an assessment consisting of a body scale analyser test combined with an in-depth consultation. In addition, passengers get a health check-up by the MSC Doctor. "Wellness Experience" guests also benefit from exciting group fitness classes designed around Technogym's ARKE equipment for core and bodyweight training, as well as Technogym Group Cycle class. In addition, a range of new fitness classes such as Bella Barre and Hula Fit will be introduced along with popular favourites including tai chi, pilates, and yoga. The personalised programme takes place in the swimming pools, gym, open-air sports facilities and the adult-only top sun deck.
Theme: Celebrity Cruises "Film Festival"
Date: 9 May 2016
Details: Passengers on Celebrity Equinox's 10-night cruise from Barcelona to Naples, departing 9 May 2016 can rub shoulders with the rich and famous at the Cannes Film Festival. They will indulge in the epitome of A-list Hollywood glitz and sophistication by attending an exclusive VIP rooftop celebration ashore with live French music and cocktails while overlooking the picturesque harbour. Onboard, guests can enjoy "Celebrity Cruises' Film Festival" -- a celebration of past Cannes Film Festival winners -- and watch live presentations from a film historian. After a day exploring the city, there's the chance to experience the real glamour of the festival after sunset with an overnight stay in Cannes. Tickets to the Film Festival are not included.
--By Gary Buchanan, Cruise Critic contributor